Abundance: Spiritual journey

May. Newness. Longer days, more sunlight. Blossom-laden trees perfume the air, geese with goslings glide across glassy ponds. Along the backroads and byways, the fields have been plowed; John Deere tractors roll over the naked earth, freshly dotted with neat rows of little green plants.

I think of sowing and the harvest to come.

My illustrious daily planner seems to be a cross between almanac and oracle these days. It offers this quote:

Small seeds of gratitude will produce a harvest of hope.

I love it for its own merit, emphasizing gratitude, which I know to be as transformative a force as love, forgiveness, and possibly awe. I envision tiny seeds of gratitude planted in the furrows of the heart, eventually producing a harvest of hope to be stacked and stored for when it is most needed in the future.

And I remember Joseph.

Unlike the chief cupbearer in Genesis 40, who “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him,” after Joseph interpreted his dream, correctly and prophetically. At the time they were in prison with the chief baker, who would be hanged by Pharaoh (yet another accurate dream interpretation by Joseph). To this point, Joseph had endured quite a bit. His mother died just after having his baby brother. His older brothers detested him for being their father’s favorite and for being “this dreamer” (37:19)… perhaps Joseph shouldn’t have told them of his dreams in which they, and their father, Jacob, all bowed to him. His brothers discussed killing him until Reuben, the oldest, intervened. They threw Joseph in a pit instead and sold him as a slave. Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh. Joseph serves Potiphar with great efficacy and integrity, so much so that Potiphar “left all he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate” (38:6). Until Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce him, that is, becoming so aggressive that Joseph wriggled out of his garment to get away from her… a garment she used to make the accusations which landed him in jail for thirteen years. (Note: This is the second garment that causes trouble for Joseph; the coat of many colors given to him long before by his father didn’t set so well with those brothers. Imagine their initial self-righteousness while tearing it, dipping it in goat’s blood, and presenting it to their father as evidence that Joseph was attacked and killed by wild animals…which, of course, they’d live to regret).

And Joseph is forgotten in prison until Pharaoh has a troubling dream and the restored cupbearer finally remembers him.

Here’s the thing: It was God’s plan all along for Joseph to stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams of coming famine, that Pharaoh should be so impressed he’d set Joseph up as prime minister of Egypt, that Joseph should execute his proposed plan for planting and harvesting:

During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. -Genesis 41:47-49

It is this divine plan of action that eventually saves Joseph’s brothers when they come seeking food in Egypt.

Joseph weeps a lot through several chapters. When his brothers realize who he is, they bow before him (every dream having come true) in fear and trembling… and Joseph chooses reconciliation over retribution. His father is still alive; he brings the whole family to Egypt to survive the famine. The brothers again fear his wrath on the death of their father, but Joseph’s words ring with gratitude to God: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, that many people should be kept alive…” (50:20). And so the Twelve Tribes of Israel were preserved.

Seeds of gratitude, shall we say, protect against spiritual famine, yielding hope to be relied upon in times when faith is tested, as Joseph’s was. He never wavered; this is why I love him. He’s one of my favorite Biblical figures, exhibiting integrity and faith in abundance.

In the midst of our trials, God is at work. In times of bleakness, verdant lushness awaits.

Begin with seeds of gratitude… and expect a harvest of unimaginable abundance.

Joseph Storing Grain During the Seven Years of Plenty. Patrizio Cajés (1540-1612).

*******

with thanks to my Spiritual Journey friends who write on the first Thursday of each month, and to Susan Koehler for hosting today on a theme of “abundance.”

It’s all about the journey

Flipping through my planner today, scheduling even more things to be done before school is out in June, I discover this quote…

We go through things we never imagined but it may lead us to places we never dreamed.

For just a fraction, a breath, the brokenness of things diminishes…

I could write of this school year’s hardships on colleagues, with colleagues, on families, and on children most of all…

of COVID still rearing its tiny invisible head in the community…

of young and beautiful creatures that have died…

of incomprehensible suffering and loss…

but I will write instead of lush green moments, the “birdiest” spring I’ve ever known, an abundance of wings and chatter and song each day, so many things I’ve never seen before, like a pair of great blue herons flying low over the road from pond to brush…

my son arriving at home, placing his baby daughter in my arms, her tiny sweet hand reaching to pat my face as she drinks from her bottle…

a newness that is more than seasonal, invoking the eternal like shafts of sunlight in shadowed places…

for just a fraction, a breath, I have a sense of undoing, of forests, animals, people restored, rejoicing, the Earth itself laughing, the whole atmosphere charged with absolution, pure, deep, and complete…a bright glimmering, a pulled curtain quickly falling back into place.

It is enough.

I turn the pages and keep writing on my tomorrows.

‘Succinct truth’ poem

Today on Ethical ELA, Maureen Young Ingram invites teacher-poets to compose “succinct truth” poems for VerseLove. The idea is to write about a difficult subject with a message of hope in 10-20 short lines, playing with lack of punctuation and capitals.

Mine’s twenty-two lines but I’m letting it be.

Dichotomies

humans
are a dichotomous race
desperately desiring
dutifully demanding
historically unable
to extend grace
at least
each other-ward

the tome of our existence
a work in progress
pages of pain
penned in blood

some say that babies are a sign
that the world should go on

forgetting that worlds go on
without humans at all

although my dog doesn’t think so

there’s hope
isn’t there
as long as dogs
haven’t given up
on us

My son with his dog, Henry, who surely has a soul
and who loves with his whole dog heart

Gogyohka poem (on joy)

For VerseLove today at Ethical ELA, Stacey L. Joy introduces the Gogyohka form. Stacey writes: “The Gogyohka is a form of verse developed by poet Enta Kusakabe in 1957. The idea behind the Gogyohka was to take the traditional form of Tanka poetry (which is written in five lines with 5-7-5-7-7 syllable counts) and liberate its structure, creating a freer form of verse. In the 1990s, Kusakabe began his efforts to spread Gogyohka as a new movement in poetry, and there are now around half a million people writing this form of verse in Japan.” Stacey invites teacher-poets to write a five-line free form poem on joy or liberation, or as many Gogyohka poems as we want.

As I pondered the many things that bring me joy and a sense of liberation, the song “Ode to Joy” came to mind. I went with it. The song title and the last verse comprise the last lines of each Gogyohka:

Call to Joy and Liberation

Listen
it is there
in feathered new-morning stirrings
before the sun’s rising
ode to joy

Believe
it is there
the golden key of redemption turning
in the locked human heart
ever singing, march we onward
 
Look
it is there
illuminating the faces of generations
clasping their grandchildren
victors in the midst of strife
 
Dig
it is still there
the uninhibited dance of childhood
a wellspring pure and free as birdsong
joyful music leads us sunward
 
Create
and it is there
a record of your existence
your own vital contribution 
in the triumph song of life

Joy

Dear Little Blue Egg

I still do not know where your parents are at present.

I am just your surrogate human grandmother figure who lives behind the blue door where you lie resting in your beautiful downy nest in the magnolia wreath.

Quite alone since your Sunday debut.

Three days now.

You ought to have had at least couple of sibling eggs, but…

Here is what I have learned, since learning is the only thing I can do in this situation of waiting to see how Nature acts on your behalf:

  1. Sometimes a mother bird’s egg-laying gets interrupted. Your mother may resume. I haven’t known this to happen before with our house finch families, but let’s not dwell on that right now.
  2. Sometimes a mother finch lays just one egg. Again, I haven’t known this to happen before, but… maybe you’re all she has. Which means you are very precious, indeed.
  3. Sometimes a mother finch will lay eggs and wait for some time before returning to incubate them, as a means of diverting attention from the nest. It’s a ploy to keep you safe. I could have sworn I heard your parents chatting at the nest late yesterday afternoon. I so expected another egg…
  4. Because a mother may wait a rather long time to return, overly interested humans (ahem) should wait a month (a MONTH!) before assuming a nest and egg are abandoned. There is hope for you yet, Little Blue Egg…

Meanwhile, I’ve done all I can for my front porch bird sanctuary… or should I say egg sanctuary? As always, I put up a sign warning visitors of your nest with instructions to use another door. My family knows to leave the front door bolted (just in case, I put a reminder sign inside: STOP! -birds-).

Meanwhile, with temperatures dipping into the twenties overnight, I cannot help thinking about your cold blue lonesomeness. I am making myself take heart that there can be a pretty good span of time before incubation begins…that you still have a window for survival…

Meanwhile, there are PLENTY of other things with which to concern myself. In the whole of the universe, you are but one little blue egg; yet your tiny solitary presence affects me. Maybe it has something to do with all the work your parents put into creating this beautiful nest and the expense of egg production is to your mother. Very costly, that. Should you, her current one and only, not hatch…it seems, in the scheme of things, a grievous loss.

Granted, grievous losses happen in the world every single day, and my species is not the best (by far) at fathoming (or preventing) them.

For the record: I love birds. Something about you gives wings to something in my soul. House finch songs are particularly joyful; indeed, you’re a bona fide omen of joy (I looked it up long ago). Early in the morning, doxology of joy; in the blue hour, evensong of joy.

This present silence, dear Little Blue Egg, feels immense.

Know that I am pulling for you while watching from a distance.

Your hopeful resident human-guardian-grandmother,
Franna

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March

When you first laughed

a pantoum for Micah, age 5 months

When you first laughed
your family stood
surrounding you
oh how sweet the sound

Your family stood
filled with awe
oh how sweet the sound
of happy forevers beginning

Filled with awe
we are your cloud of witnesses
of happy forevers beginning
on the last day of your first winter

We are your cloud of witnesses
surrounding you
on the last day of your first winter
when you first laughed

Micah, here are your first laughs, captured on video. Your mom, dad, big sister, Grandpa, and I were all there to see it. Notice that the word “Happy” is on your onesie. I hope you know, someday, how much happiness you’ve brought to all of us. This actually occurred on the last day of winter. Your first spring has begun. A whole lifetime of love, blossoming…

You are a joy, sweet Micah-roon.

Love you forever.

—Franna

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March

Lament and celebration poem

with thanks to Andrew Moore, host of Sunday’s Open Write on Ethical ELA. Andrew challenged teacher-poets to compose around lament plus celebration (these don’t have to be related; this is meant to be exercise in writing freely, in any form). He writes: “My inspiration comes from a distinct lack of good sadness, grief, and lament beside a healthy laugh and looking forward to the changes the future may bring.” The poem can be as light-hearted, silly, or serious as the poet desires.

Here’s where I am today:

Remains

Today, I mourn 
the destruction of trees along my rural byways
the displacement of wildlife
the destruction of Ukraine
the displacement of her people
the systemic demoralization of teachers
the systemic misplacement of trust

Today, I celebrate
the remnants
of trees
wildlife
Ukraine
her people
teachers
trust

Today, I hope
for restoration
in revelation 
and reverence

before all
become revenants

“The Elephant – great destruction.” Public domain. Note the trees, the cities, the elephant all in stages of disappearing … elephants, by the way, symbolize wisdom, memory, prosperity

******

with thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

The feather

on the second anniversary of school shutdowns due to COVID-19

Bleak days. A long, rain-spattered, windswept season, gray as ashes, as stones, just as hard, cold, and immovable. Day to day to day the green promise of spring seems like a dream barely remembered; naked tree branches twist skyward as if beseeching the heavens for renewal…

We go through the motions, automatons numbed by a pandemic not quite past and the ripple effect of unprovoked war on the world stage, as if we’ve somehow fallen through a wormhole to eight decades ago… what year IS this?

I am tired, my colleagues at school tell one another. So tired. Some don’t know if they’re coming back next year. Some don’t know if they’re going to stay in education at all. Our principal is leaving in four weeks.

The children have seemed shell-shocked most of this year. Maybe I seem the same way to them, especially now that masks are optional and I find myself not recognizing some of them; I’ve never seen them without masks before. I don’t know their faces below their eyes.

As I walked the hallways last week, I had a sense of dragging myself over a finish line, except that there is no finish line. Not now, not yet…

But even in the bleakest, rain-spattered, windswept season, when gray goes grayer still, bits of brightness are always swirling. Maybe as tiny as a feather, a soft semiplume shed from a creature with the gift of flight. It might appear to be half one thing and half another… it might have the appearance of dark, wispy, wayward hair as well as a tapered tip dipped in fiery red, altogether like an artist’s brush with which we might, we just might, begin to dispel despair by painting our moments as we will…

So much symbolism in a feather. In the bird that releases it.

It is said that when cardinals appear, angels are near.

I don’t know about that.

I just know a cardinal feather is a symbol of life, hope, and restoration. And courage. And love. And sacrifice…

Falling from the grayest sky
Ethereal, riding the wind
Alluding to nearness of angels
Tiny trace of a nearby cardinal that
Has lost a bit of his insulation
Ephemeral, perhaps, to him
Restorative tincture, to me

Semiplume cardinal feather photographed by my friend,
E. Johnson, 3/11/2022.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

The robin

Plump little robin
we stand around you, aghast
at your misfortune

stuck there in the grille
of the SUV after
two hours’ interstate

yet you are alive
calling in your bird language
blinking and trembling

head twisting, trying
valiantly but in vain
to set yourself free

I think you’re impaled
except there’s not any blood
plus, your voice is strong,

full of warning, as
I lean in to examine
the situation:

both feet balled up tight
against your belly, somehow
straddling metal bars

wedged body, aslant
—can it really be intact?
—little eyes, so bright

that we three humans
standing before you in awe
vow to do our best

I grab a towel
(my childhood pet parakeet
often flew the coop

and had to be caught.
I learned to cover him first;
that small beak is sharp)

and we cover you,
but your loud cries of distress
tell us pulling hurts

—oh, you’re a fighter,
courageous little robin
biting at the cloth!

My sister-in-law
covers your face; my husband
hands me an ink pen

(ever-present in
his shirt pocket, a good thing,
as you never know

when you might need it,
in this case, to save a life)
so I wield the pen

through the metal grille,
through your feathers, bit by bit
freeing a pinned wing

until you’re sliding
into my cloth-shielded hands
like a newborn child

like a miracle
released at last, in the grass,
suddenly running

yes, flapping both wings
before taking a nose dive
into the clover

unable to fly
at least for now, surely bruised
needing time to heal

—the backyard becomes
bird rehabilitation,
bird sanctuary

where I can watch you
hopping along, pulling worms
these warm winter days

unseasonable
but I’m glad on your behalf,
keeping my distance

hoping predators
do the same, until you’re healed
and take to the skies

lucky bird, forgive
my bad Shakespearean pun:
you’re Robin the Plucked

for salvation comes
in the most peculiar ways,
begging the question

of mortality,
the taking and the giving
in daily living

these two days I’ve watched
your grounded red breast gleaming
by the old arbor

—today, no sighting,
inexplicable sadness
despite the wonder

of your survival
and the part I got to play.
Little Robin, plucked

to live life anew,
here’s to taking flight on your
wings and my prayers.

Robin the Plucked right after his rescue from the grille of my sister-in-law’s SUV. She’d driven down I-95 a few days after Christmas to visit us. Robin had some feathers askew from his ordeal but his wings weren’t dragging; my husband and I put him in our fenced backyard in hopes that nature would take its course, that he’d soon be fit enough to fly again (and that he’d want to). There are no words to adequately describe him enmeshed in that grille, very much alive and calling out, or for the sight of him immediately trying to run once we got him loose and laid him on the grass. I was amazed and elated to see him eating in the backyard with other birds that came and went the next day. I didn’t go near him again, as when I attempted it, he ran. I refused to distress him any more (heaven knows being trapped on the front of a car going 70 mph is enough for a lifetime). I joke that he’s my last good deed of 2021; I kept an eye on him all yesterday. On this first day of 2022, he is gone.

I keep watching, however.

One final observation, regarding the symbolism of robins: They’re tied to a number of legends and mostly positive connotations like spring and good luck (begging another question: Who’s the actually the bringer of luck here, Robin the Plucked or me?). But the perspective of Mother Teresa moves me most at present, as quoted in No Greater Love (Benenate & Durepos) on the legend of the robin and Christ’s crown of thorns: “Each of us should try and be that bird – the little robin. When we see someone in pain, we must ask ourselves: ‘What can I do to give them comfort?’”

Happy New Year and new life to you, Robin, wherever you are.

And to you all.

2021: A year of awe

Some people call it one word. Others call it one little word, abbreviated OLW. Either way it’s the tradition of choosing a focus word for a new year. Maybe even a new word for each month. Make of it what you will, how you will, the chosen word serves as a tool for reflection, a lens for living, a frame for your days.

At the outset of 2021, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word unless it was survival or endurance or possibly perseverance, none of which were inspiring or lyrical (shouldn’t your OLW strike deep chords in your spirit?). After 2020, I was tired. We were tired, all of us. It was a year that seemed liked ten. The world as we knew it changed overnight. Quarantine, separation, isolation, closed businesses, bare shelves at the stores, working from home, doing school online. Plans disrupted. Staggering losses of so many kinds. Grief. Rage. Despair. Navigating the unknown every single day. The COVID-troubled world kept turning but we almost didn’t recognize it or ourselves anymore…literally, behind the masks.

We hoped. We clung to our screens. We cherished every glimmer of light in the long, dark night of the soul. How long? we wondered. How long?

On the brink of 2021, as I wearily turned the page in my academic planner, I said something like this to myself: Forget the one little word thing. I don’t have the energy to think around it or write around it. What difference does it really make, anyway. After all, my word for 2020 was reclamation. I wrote in January, before the onslaught of COVID-19 in March, when everything shut down that Friday 13th for what we thought would be only two weeks: Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Note to self: Be careful what you wish for…

But then, then, turning that page… I discovered this quote, in tiny font, sitting on January 1, 2021, in my planner: Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you feel more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

I knew, then.

Whatever might come in 2021, I must look for awe. I must keep the door open for it. Anticipate it. Invite it.

There’s a psychology, a science, to awe. A savoring of life, an ineffable hope, a spark of joy, an inhaled breath of wonder at the wonders all around, a reverence. It can make you feel more altruistic…desiring to benefit others at your own expense…can the world not use more of this?

I sat in awe of this revelation…and that is the story of awe choosing itself as my word for this year, now in its final days.

It’s everywhere, awe.

In fragile periwinkle flowers poking through the January snow, in the piercing cry of a red-tailed hawk, in the flight of an eagle near enough for me to see its white head. In the resilience of children learning from home and in their happy dogs who attended class with them. In my own dog, who slept in my lap during those long hours online. In colleagues who stopped resisting new learning in the hardest of times and began embracing it…and each other. In children learning to read despite all, in one student pointing to a new word, “trombone” (without a picture), and telling me I don’t know how to say it, but it’s a musical instrument. In resuming church services and eventually singing hymns again. In the return of the little finches which have built a nest on my front door wreath every year except for 2020. In the gift of new life…in the announcement that my son and his wife were expecting a baby in the fall. In the long summer of anticipating, in finally making it to the ocean again, in seeing how seabirds stood on the shore, protecting one of their own that was missing a foot. In passing three white horses in a grassy meadow on morning drives to school, reminding me of a game my father taught me to play on long journeys when I was a child (I have a lot of thirty-point days now, Daddy). In teaching poetry again, in seeing the kids’ faces light up with their own writing discoveries. I wrote a lot of poetry in 2021; much of it centered on awe.

I have so much more to write. I am awed by what my sons have accomplished this year, one as a minister, the other as a funeral assistant and musician. I am awed by other people who say your boys have blessed me.

Baby girl Micah arrived at the end of October. Her big sister’s wish, come true.

Christmas Eve at my house, 2021

Awe abounds. It waits to be found. Just like the little present placed in my stack on Christmas Eve during our family gathering.

That’s especially for you, Franna, said my daughter-in-law.

I opened it.

Micah’s tiny handprint, in white plaster.

Awe.

And tears. Too overcome for words.

My daughter-in-law didn’t know the story. One day I will tell Micah about the handprint I made for my grandmother so long ago, how it hung on her bedroom wall for over thirty years…

Awe. Awe. Awe. Life in its abundance, making full circles. Light to be found, even in the darkest season. The treasure of having each other. Love, blessing, wonder, the gift of life itself, all from the hand of Almighty God.

I see no reason whatsoever for changing to a new word in 2022.

Wishing awe to you all – each new day with its waiting treasures

*******

with much love and gratitude to the Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. There is sustaining power in writing. There is more in a writing community.